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U.S. Republican presidential candidates gather before the start of their debate in Ames, Iowa August 11, 2011. They are (from L to R) Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman and Newt Gingrich. REUTER
Show me a set of nomination process rules that would have delivered the White House to any of these clowns and I'll show you a bridge in Brooklyn that I'd like to sell you.
In a series of closed-door meetings since August, handpicked members of the Republican National Committee have been meeting with party Chairman Reince Priebus in Washington to hash out details of a sweeping plan to condense the nominating calendar, severely punish primary and caucus states that upend the agreed-upon voting order and potentially move the party's national convention to earlier in the summer, with late June emerging as the ideal target date.
According to CNN's report, Republicans are talking about a 2016 primary calendar that would begin in February and end in May ahead of a late June convention. If Republicans adopt this calendar, less than five months would elapse between the first votes and the party's nominating convention compared with just under eight months in 2012, when the first votes were cast on January 3, the last votes on June 26, and the nominating convention began on August 27.

That would mean three fewer months of primary battles, which seems like it would benefit Republicans, but the reason why it seems like it would benefit them is that it would have benefited them in 2012, when it would have meant three fewer months of the primary clown show (thanks to the compressed calendar) and two additional months of general election fundraising (thanks to the earlier convention).

If they follow this path, it remains to be seen whether rules that would have helped them in 2012 help them in 2016. After all, Republicans changed their rules ahead of the 2012 contests to address perceived flaws in the rules for the 2008 primary season, but those rule changes didn't really work out for them. The moral of the story: Changing the end product might be more important than changing the rules for selecting the product.

Moreover, rules changes are bound to have unanticipated consequences. Take the issue of Republican debates, for example. Pretty much everybody agrees that the debate season was a disaster for Republicans in 2012, so there's pretty widespread agreement within the GOP that there needs to be fewer debates in 2016. As one Republican told CNN:

"There is a definitely a consensus for Reince's objective to have less debates and have control over how and who we have run our debates, rather than just turning it over to X, Y or Z network and having a guy moderate who's going to just dog you for two hours," said the Republican, who requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive and not-yet-finalized rules changes.
But as embarrassing as the debates may have been for Republicans, it's easy to forget that without them, Mitt Romney might not have won the nomination. It's true the debates helped give a boost to Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum, but it's easy to forget that strong rebound performances by Romney were critical in ultimately helping him defeat Gingrich and Santorum. Cain sunk himself with his handling of the harassment story, but probably would have faced the same fate as Gingrich and Santorum. And let's not forget Rick Perry, who basically knocked himself out of the game with bad debate performances.

In the end, it's possible that the only thing worse than so many debates would have been fewer debates, because without the extended debate schedule, Romney might not have wrapped things up when he did—if at all. And the one thing that seems pretty clear in the wake of 2012 is this: As bad a candidate as Mitt Romney was, he was still better than Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, or any of the other clowns that had a shot at the GOP's 2012 nomination.

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